Bobby Eliot; STYLING: Miu Miu
Like many of us, Jessica Rothe had high expectations for 2020. This was going to be a big year for the actress with three projects on the docket and a big summer wedding scheduled. The coronavirus, however, had other plans. But as I meet with Rothe virtually in the middle of November, she is all smiles—and rightfully so. Her musical romantic comedy Valley Girl dropped earlier this year, followed by the release of the eerily timely series Utopia on Amazon Prime this fall, and this month, she is starring in the beautiful drama All My Life. The wedding of her dreams, albeit a micro one, went on, too. (“We ended up having the most magical day.”) Sure, it wasn’t the year she expected, but reflecting on the last eight or so months, she knows there is plenty to be grateful for in this moment.
Over the years, Rothe has scared the bejesus out of me in the Happy Death Day horror film franchise and made me want to sing and dance with performances in La La Land and Valley Girl, but with her latest project, All My Life, she is striking a few different emotions: heartbreak and hope. Based on the true story of Jennifer Carter and Solomon Chau, the film centers on a budding young couple whose wedding and future life plans are derailed when the groom is diagnosed with liver cancer. While a tearjerker, All My Life is also a touching reminder to appreciate the small moments and the incredible resilience of the human spirit. It’s a 2020 message if I’ve ever seen one.
Delighted to jump on a Zoom call, one that came with a cameo from her cute pup Otis, Rothe and I chatted about bringing Jennifer and Solomon’s story to life, quarantine hobbies (I can personally attest to her pottery-making skills), and being introduced to the French brand we all love. Keep reading for my interview.
Photo:Bobby Eliot; STYLING: Miu Miu
Hi! How are you?
I’m good. I’m so delighted that we are doing this over Zoom and not just over the phone. Everything is so discombobulated and disconnected and weird now that any human interaction I get on-screen or off feels like Christmas. I get so freaking pumped to meet new people.
I hear you. How have you been keeping yourself busy during this strange time?
There's definitely been huge ups and downs, but I have the best dog in the world. I have my now husband. We got married during quarantine. We had a micro wedding day, which was wild and super stressful but incredible. I rented a pottery wheel. I was taking classes before this all started and getting really into it, and then when quarantine hit, I was like, “Not only would I be able to support a local business and help keep their doors open but also I need something to do that is not staring at a screen.” It’s been really fun. I’m not great yet, but I’m getting there.
I love that! I’m excited to talk to you about your film All My Life. It’s a heartbreaking but beautiful love story. How did this project come to you?
I first encountered the script around the time the second Happy Death Day movie came out. I love Universal, and they have given me so many incredible opportunities. I was talking to my team and saying I want to be in business with them and asked if there is anything else they have on their slate that’s right for me. One of my agents said, “It’s not financed yet. It’s not off the ground, but there’s this script that I’m obsessed with that I think you will really love. It’s such a beautiful story. You are going to sob through the whole thing.” They sent me the script, and I devoured it. I read it that night. And as they said, I completely sobbed and lost my shit. I immediately fell in love with Jen and Sol’s story and this incredible, beautiful, resilient love between two best friends. I fell in love with Jen’s resilience and tenacity and sense of humor but also how fearless she was and how protective she was of this man who she loved so deeply. I just knew I had to be a part of it. I called my team and was like, “Whatever you have to do, I don’t care. Whoever I have to meet or talk to or audition with, I’ll do it.” Over the next year, I met with Marc Meyers, our incredible director, and the producers, and luckily, it all fell into place. We got to shoot the movie in New Orleans, which is a place I’ve worked a lot and love so much. And Harry [Shum Jr.], who is so incredible in the film, signed on. In a way, it was this beautiful kismet thing, all of these pieces falling into place. I feel so incredibly honored and grateful that I got to be a part of it.
Photo:Bobby Eliot; STYLING: Miu Miu
The film is based on real-life couple Jennifer Carter and Solomon Chau. I have to imagine there’s an added layer of pressure when you are telling someone’s story.
I was really lucky that when I signed on for the project I actually got to speak with Jen quite extensively. The first time we talked, we talked on the phone for over three hours. She is just sunshine incarnate. She is such a beautiful, soulful, funny, and endlessly positive human being. She was so generous with how open she was about her and Sol’s relationship and sharing intimate details. She actually sent a couple of videos over for Harry and I to watch so we could get a sense of their relationship. When he was diagnosed, they started documenting their lives all of the time so she would have those videos to look back on. Not only did she sprinkle in all of these beautiful, intimate moments and pieces of insight, but she also said to me, “Listen, I want to give you complete creative freedom. You can portray me however you want because I have the rest of my life to prove what kind of human I am, so don’t feel beholden to something I’ve said or worry that I won’t like something you do.” It was such an incredibly generous and very—mature is not quite the right word—old-soul way to approach it. If someone was trying to portray me, I would be like, “Please make me seem great.” Because she gave me that freedom, I was able to be present with Harry and with Marc, and we were able to create all of the wonderful, intimate, and incredibly personal moments from what was happening in that moment, as opposed to us trying to re-create something or acting out of fear and worrying that we were going to misrepresent one of them. That was just such a gift.
Were you in touch with Jennifer throughout the entire filming process or just at the beginning?
We were in touch a lot more in the beginning. She actually came to the set. She was there for the wedding, which must have been such a weird out-of-body experience. She was incredible, though, and I think it was really fun for her being on a set. That’s what I love. Whether it’s someone like Jen visiting or my mom, I’m reminded of the magic we’re creating. It’s so easy to go to work and be like, “This is just my job.” But when someone is there who hasn’t seen it before, you get to tap into that magical experience again. We definitely stayed in touch through the film. We started out with some of the lighter things, the wedding, their first date, and then, toward the end is when we got into a lot of the heavy stuff, like the fight and later stages of Sol’s diagnosis, so we were all pretty exhausted. Our days were filled with shooting and crying and then going home and hugging each other and eating and going to sleep.
You talk about these really intense days that you had. What would you do at the end of those days to lighten your spirit, or did you prefer to stay in those moments?
That’s a great question. I kind of did both. It did feel like I needed to stay in a specific emotional place in order to really go to the depth I wanted to go to and really honor Jen and Sol’s story and honor the experience of people who have been through a difficult experience like this and have experienced loss and grief dealing with an illness. I think the entire cast and crew did such an incredible job of giving both Harry and I the space to experience that but also an incredible amount of support. Like I said, there was a lot of hugging and comforting. Harry and I, after a lot of days of shooting, would go and hang out in one of our rooms either to decompress or rehearse the material for the next day, and he was such an incredible source of comfort. He is so talented and kind and intelligent and just has the biggest heart and is a total goofball. I can take myself very seriously, and he was always there to do a silly dance or poke at me and remind me to have a good time and not get too obsessed with the little things. One thing that helped a lot is we were staying across the street from a place that had really good pho. I think soup cheers up 90% of things, so we ate a lot of pho. I took a lot of hot showers and had chocolate cake, which is also important. I’m also a very emotional person, and one of the reasons I love this job is I get to experience the depths of what it means to be a human. Even though those days were exhausting, I was always grateful for them at the end of the day. I also made a lot of tearful phone calls to my now husband being like, “I’m so glad you are well. Please stay well.”
This film isn’t just a tearjerker. It’s filled with a lot of hopeful messaging, too. What did you personally take away from Jennifer and Solomon’s story?
I think one of the biggest things I took away was that there are so many moments in our lives that, at the time, seem small and insignificant, but when you look back on an experience or a relationship, those are often the moments that mean the most to you. Whether it’s waking up on a Sunday and having a lazy morning in bed with your partner or going on a walk with your dog or sitting with your friend on the floor of their room laughing at some stupid YouTube video you’ve watched or calling your mom to say you love her, I think so often we can take those moments for granted and focus more on the big, flashy, fun moments, which are also so important. Those moments are really the pillars and the building blocks of our lives and of our relationships. I have been trying, especially during this time in quarantine, to really breathe and be present and to not take those moments for granted and to really treasure all of the time I have with the people I have because you never know what’s going to happen. I do think it’s helped to make my quarantine feel a little less dire because I am spending a lot of quality time with my husband and my dog and my best friends that I wouldn’t normally get because we would all be rushing around and doing a million things at once. I’m such a workaholic that I can gloss over the importance of those moments sometimes.
Photo:Bobby Eliot; STYLING: Miu Miu
You were supposed to get married this summer, but COVID had other plans. How did you go about reimagining your micro-wedding during this time?
We still hope we get to have a big ass dance party because, What’s a wedding without a giant dance party? For us, we just knew we wanted to get married and that that was the most important thing. We actually ended up getting married in my parents’ backyard up in the mountains in Colorado. In a funny way, I wouldn’t change a single thing. Of course, I wish we could have had everyone there that we wanted and that the guests there didn’t have to wear masks, but we got married outside in the fall and ate under the stars, and were able to spend quality time with each and every single person. I remember everything from my wedding. I remember every conversation I had. I remember the food. I got to eat, which a lot of people tell me the bride doesn’t eat. I wasn’t running around like a chicken with my head cut off in the morning because there weren't all of the extra kinds of stressors. As a result, we ended up having the most magical day, probably one of the best days of my life. I’m very grateful for it. It was stressful leading up just because we really wanted everyone to be safe and make the situation as predictable as possible, which, in this unpredictable time, is very difficult.
Your dress was beautiful!
We actually just got our photos back from the photographers, and I cannot wait to put some online because of the dress. I had to wear the dress. I already bought it. It was sitting in my closet. I’m not not going to wear the dress, and if we do have a big party, I’m definitely going to wear the dress again. I’m going to wear that dress as many times as I can because it’s a beautiful dress. It actually was the first dress I tried on. I tried on many more dresses. I probably tried on too many dresses, but it was not only the first dress I tried on. It was a dress I only tried on because I saw someone else wearing it. Anyone who has tried on wedding dresses knows that they look so different on a hanger than they do on a person. So I’m very grateful to that mystery girl. I do not know who she is, but I’m very thankful.
Have you developed any new fashion obsessions during this time?
The sweats style! No, I think the thing that has been really fun is I definitely leaned really hard into the “oh, I’m doing Zoom calls and wearing a cute shirt, but below that, I’m wearing sweatpants, and nobody knows.” I’ve also had days where I’m just so bummed out and stressed out by the fact that I can’t go outside and see my friends that I’m like, “I’m going to look through my closet and combine things I never would have because who is going to see me but me.” You know what’s been interesting is figuring out how many accessories I can wear on my head while still wearing a mask. If I’m wearing a bandana in my hair and a mask, it’s a little too much. I will say, on a more specific note, other than I like sweatpants, I was introduced to the brand Sézane through a friend, which was both amazing and also maybe a horrible mistake for my wallet. I’ve been stocking up on their line because I think that they make such beautiful things, and the couple of things I’ve ordered from them are so incredibly comfortable and flattering and perfect for both Zoom calls and a girl on the go. I’m excited to take those looks into the world.
We are nearly at the end of this wild year. What’s something you celebrate from 2020?
I’m very happy about the election. I did a lot of phone banking, which was a new experience for me and very intense. But like we talked about, I’m celebrating this time with the people in my life, whether I’m talking to them more on the phone or having a social distance drink in the backyard. It feels like Christmas because it’s just so exciting to connect with these friends who I love. Or all of the time I’ve been getting to spend with my husband. I think when I look back on this time that will be the biggest thing I remember. I’m actually going to make a time capsule, which I’m very excited about. I’m starting to gather random things that remind me of this year because I do think it’s such a weird time and such a hard time, but there are also really magical things happening, even with this movie. I’m so grateful Universal is giving this story a platform right now because I do think, even though there are elements of it that are incredibly sad and heartbreaking and difficult to watch, as we’ve talked about, it is a life-affirming movie, and there’s a lot of hope and love and passion in the tapestry of what it is. Another huge message of the film is we’re so much stronger when we work together and when we unite behind a common cause and celebrate love and celebrate friendship. I think that’s such an important message to put out into the world right now. I’m very excited about this film coming out. I also got on the sourdough bandwagon for a while, and I made something called a babka, which is like a chocolatey sourdough-y twist bread that is unreal. So I celebrate the babka. This time has been really difficult, but I am so in awe of the human spirit and humanity’s ability to persevere and to make it through really difficult times. I’m so excited for 2021 and what it brings for me and the people I love and also the world because this has been a time of great reflection. Hopefully, it means we can step bravely into the New Year with a bit of clarity and calmness and presence and really enact change on the world.
Speaking of, what are some of your goals looking ahead to 2021 and beyond?
I am constantly trying to find a balance between work and life, and that’s one reason this year has been hard for me. I love being on set more than almost anything in the world, second only to my husband and my family and my dog. I love working, and I love storytelling, so I really hope that the New Year and the next five years bring a lot of work and opportunities to explore different kinds of characters and genres, work with different people, make new friends, and travel to amazing places. I’m also writing something for the first time, which I was doing pre-quarantine, but quarantine has provided ample time to work on this script. I’m working with an incredible writing partner, and we’re on our second draft, so I’m hoping in the New Year we can find the right home for this project. I just continue to hope that I have the opportunity to explore what it means being a human on-screen and off.
All My Life opens in theaters December 4 and will be available on VOD December 23.